Listening Tip: Kirchner’s 100th

Bill Kirchner is a saxophonist, arranger, composer, teacher, editor and historian who finds time to also be a broadcaster. Since 2002, he has been a host on Jazz From The Archives, a highlight in the schedule of WBGO-FM, the Newark, New Jersey, jazz station. He has devoted 99 programs to the work of other leading musicians. There is a list of those shows on Kirchner’s website. This Sunday, for his 100th broadcast, he will feature his own music. From his announcement:

I want it to be full of surprises, so all I’ll say is that there will be some unique and memorable performances played with some great musicians over a span of four decades. The settings range from duo to studio orchestra, and much of the music is from previously unaired recordings.

Jazz From The Archives airs from 11 pm to midnight EDT on 88.3 in the New York metropolitan area, and online at Click on “Listen Now.”

Kirchner edited the massive and invaluable Oxford Companion to Jazz. In tribute to that accomplishment, blogger Steve Cerra put together a video incorporating photographs of many of the musicians covered in the book and some of the writers who contributed to it. Steve accompanied his pictorial essay with the Bill Holman band playing Holman’s celebrated arrangement of “Just Friends.” The final portrait in the sequence is of Bill Kirchner.

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  1. marshal folstein says

    As the editor of the Oxford Companion to Jazz and an established musician, Mr. Kirchner is uniquely qualified to comment on the movement of jazz expression over the years. The shows on his website are often, if not usually, very traditional. What is his forecast for the sound of jazz in the future? Will it become more abstract or will it return to melody and rhythm as defining features. Are we entering a renaissance period with a return to more classical expressions or will young players join the stream of modern music in general without reference to jazz roots?

  2. says

    Mr Folstein’s comments and questions are interesting, to say the least. To begin with, he says that my Jazz From the Archives shows are “very traditional”–whatever that means. My shows have ranged widely in style and subject matter from New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall to Brazil’s itiberê Orquestra Familia and Egberto Gismonti–all of whom are part of the jazz tradition, in my view. (Hell, I even view Kenny G–whom I have no plans to do a show on–as a jazz musician, albeit a rather lightweight one.) Also, many of my shows have been devoted to musicians, both living and dead, whom I consider under-recognized.

    Other that that, Mr. Folstein’s questions strike me as of the “when did you stop beating your wife” variety. To ask if jazz “will return to melody and rhythm as defining features” implies that those elements are currently missing, which is news to me. And his last sentence is at once vague (what are “classical expressions”?) and revealing of his own biases; apparently in his view, if “young players join the stream of modern music” they have to do so “without reference to jazz roots.”

    If I’m at all “uniquely qualified to comment on the movement of jazz expression” and where it’s going, it’s primarily because I’ve had the good fortune of teaching many of the most gifted young jazz musicians of the past 20 years–names dropped on request. And from what I know of them, they’ll use whatever elements of jazz and other musics that suit their creative needs. There are no either/or situations.

    Here are a couple of relevant, timeless observations by two great musicians:
    “The word ‘jazz’ means to me ‘no category’.”–Wayne Shorter
    “All jazz is ‘fusion’ music.”–George Russell

    • marshal folstein says

      Wow! First of all, I admire and respect your work and your show. Secondly, I am a jazz lover and amateur player who started listening to Charlie Parker Savoys 60 years ago. Third, I consider Jazz to be an art form created by special artists from (among others) Louis Armstrong to Parker to early Coltrane. Then, something happened that was different (maybe “Ascension” or “Chasing the Trane”). Many distinguished musicians then continued in that “free” emotional expressionist style. Cecil Taylor and Oscar Peterson don’t seem to be playing the same kind of music. During the same period, painting became more abstract, with a rejection of figural painting and an emphasis on color and line. Painting then returned to photorealism. Classical music followed the same path in the 20th century, culminating in the silence of John Cage. In literature, it was Finnegan’s Wake.

      So what is happening now and what will happen next in jazz? You imply that it will retain rhythmic and harmonic roots with, hopefully, some new developments but without a rejection of past creations. Will students be taught the chords, scales and rhythms used by the masters as a basis for their own innovations? Or will those masters be seen as corny moldy figs? Or is it something we can’t talk about because we just dont know what will happen next?

  3. says

    Students are taught craft skills–what they choose to do with them is of course up to them. I’ve had over 1000 students in the last 20 years; their musical philosophies have ranged from virtual anarchy to extreme conservatism, with infinite gradations in-between. Nowadays, we probably have more available music to listen to than at any time in human history. So we can talk as much as we like, but it seems to me that the most sensible course is simply to listen to and support what we like and leave the rest for others to enjoy.

    • marshal folstein says

      Thank you. I am chagrined to find that the Keepnews chapter in the Oxford companion expresses the question nicely. Alfred Appel in JAZZ MODERNISM discusses the relation of Jazz to modern art. I should have read them before writing.